You can't go to Folklorama, but Folklorama can come to you, says festival producer
'We had to quickly pivot and change our approach to how we are going to face the summer,' says agency producer
This coming weekend would have been the opening of the 2020 Folklorama festival, but COVID-19 ended the annual multicultural festival's consecutive run at 50 years.
Instead of celebrating the Winnipeg festival's 51st straight year, the pavilions will remain silent — the sounds of music and dancing, the balm of international cuisines missing from the scent of summer. Sort of.
"Given COVID-19, we had to quickly pivot and change our approach to how we are going to face the summer," said Christian Hidalgo-Mazzei, the agency producer for Folklorama.
For Folklorama, that's meant finding ways to bring the festival experience directly to people.
"In partnership with our members, our performing groups, we came up with this great idea of bringing Folklorama to the community at home, at work, at school and at play," said Hidalgo-Mazzei.
Offering customized events at homes or workplaces is actually a service the festival has provided for years, he said, but this is the first time the entire festival will be conducted this way.
When he gets a call from someone looking to book an event, he asks questions to narrow down what type of Folklorama experience looking for, and tries to bring those experiences to the caller's home, he explained.
"You can be really creative. I love those parties where people go, 'Is it OK if I have Filipino food but I have Irish entertainment?'" Hidalgo-Mazzei said.
"It's your party. We try to customize every experience to suit your expectations, of your ideal of a festival, your idea of celebration."
While people won't be able to experience the entire grandness of Folklorama this year, bringing elements of the festival to people's homes allows for a more intimate experience, he said.
"You can ask [performers] questions. You can ask them simple things like, 'How long have you been doing this?' or 'Was that hard?'" said Hidalgo-Mazzei.
Hugarian community provides taste of Folklorama
Winnipeg's Hungarian community has hatched a plan of its own to make sure Folklorama-lovers don't completely miss out on their flavours this year.
In lieu of the festival, the Kapisztran Folk Ensemble has found a way to let people still enjoy a Hungarian meal.
"We really wanted to do something nice, even if it was just for our community, to bring people together in some capacity," said Liz Kovach, one of the co-ordinators of the Hungarian pavilion.
To that end, the group created Hungarian Days, a sampling of Folklorama that allows anyone to order some of the most popular fare at its pavilion each year. Volunteers will be preparing dishes available for pick up to take home during the week Folklorama was supposed to take place.
"The menu items are an abbreviated repertoire of the ones you would typically see at the pavilion and can be ordered a la carte like you have come to expect during the festival," says a post on the Kapisztran Hungarian Dance Ensemble of Winnipeg's Facebook page.
Kovach, who has volunteered with the Hungarian pavilion for the past 38 years, listed off some of the favourites:
- Langos, a deep fried bread.
- Melt-in-your-mouth cabbage rolls.
- Homemade sausage.
- Kremes, a custard-based dessert with a puff pastry on the top and bottom layers.
The Kapisztran board began taking orders a couple of weeks ago and hopes to begin pickups on Aug. 13.
"It's been progressing very well. We're going to be pretty busy," said Kovach, noting about 200 orders have already come in, but she is expecting that to surge in the final days.
"A lot of people tend to procrastinate and will order at the end of the week."
Typically at this time of year, the Hungarian Folklorama community would be doing final preparations, last-minute promotions and one final run-through of rehearsals for the performances.
This year was much less festive, Kovach said.
"It's been tough. There have been some days where there were lots of tears, not being able to connect with people."
But the mood has lifted in the last while, as COVID-19 restrictions are eased and people can begin to imagine a return to normal.
There is general optimism that didn't exist back in April, when events around the city and province were being cancelled, Kovach said.
"All we've tried to do is the best that we can to start planning ahead for next year and making 2021 a huge comeback year," she said. "So we're trying to focus all of our energy on the positive, moving forward."